Merylin Pill, Anneli Roose, Catarina Pereira, Janja Dolec, Olga Kyselova, Sandra Metsis, Melika Hinaje
Today, there are women in a wide variety of positions in the energy sector, from support staff to technicians and managers. However, it can be said that this is still a very "masculine" field. One thing is for sure - there are more women in energy than ever before, but certainly not enough.
SMAGRINET doesn’t follow this pattern. But why?
Gender imbalance in energy has been a problem since the beginning, and the changes aren't happening as fast as they should, as we still need to talk about it and address this issue. The energy sector is certainly not the only one where there is gender inequality - women face gender inequalities in many areas. “The energy sector remains one of the least gender diverse sectors and closing this gender gap will be vital as women are key drivers of innovative and inclusive solutions. A clean energy transition will require innovative solutions and business models to be adopted and greater participation from a diverse talent pool.” (IEA)
The last year has forced all of us to change. The energy sector is also changing as there are more and more interesting things happening that also create new opportunities and job positions. Nevertheless, according to IEA “Despite making up 48% of the global labor force - women only account for 22% of the traditional energy sector. For management levels the numbers are even lower. ” Being a power engineer no longer means being just a miner or, for example, a technician in a power plant. It is much more diverse! We have the needed ICT specialists. But, in the case of the integration of renewable energy that has to be analysed and measured, there's a need for people to help us in dealing with the changes in the energy economics (among others). With so many interesting areas to focus on... your gender definitely shouldn't put you aside.
Schools are a great place to start this change, since it will allow women to feel empowered and pursue a degree and a career in the energy field. Change cannot be expected if nothing is done about it. Change also doesn’t happen overnight. But by starting to recognise the issue, adjusting the mindset, and taking steps to turn it around, it can be done. On a positive note, this has been increasingly addressed at a European level and, for example, in the various support programs, a certain proportion of the consortium must be composed of women.
SMAGRINET is not only addressing this issue, but is a positive example, as more than half of the team are women!
Let's get to know and hear from some of the amazing women of SMAGRINET!
Meet the Team!
Anneli Roose is Senior Consultant at Civitta Estonia International Projects Team. She's been in the SMAGRINET team from the very beginning and as previously she worked for 14 years in education – University of Tartu and Estonian Ministry of Education and Research SMAGRINET project has a special place in her heart. Contacts: email@example.com
Catarina Pereira is a project manager at LOBA.cx in charge of the Communication & Dissemination Team at the EU-Projects department. She manages the communication and dissemination activities of different European funded projects in fields related to sustainable innovation, ICT, bioeconomy, alternative financing, security, bigdata, among others. She also takes part in proposal writing. She has a degree on Languages Applied to Business Relations and a master on Communication Sciences, both obtained at Faculdade de Letras da Universidade do Porto, Portugal. She's fluent in English, Portuguese and Spanish. She loves animals, the summer, the water and travelling abroad! Contacts: firstname.lastname@example.org Linkedin
Janja Dolenc is a researcher and teaching assistant at the Faculty of Electrical Engineering, University of Ljubljana, Slovenia. Currently, she's also a PhD student, a wife, and a mom of two cute little boys. She loves trail running and spending time with her family in the nature. However, in a professional way, her main field of research are harmonic studies of transmission systems. Therefore, working as a leader and coordinator of tasks within the Smagrinet project from ULJUB, she challenges herself at a whole new field of research. Contacts: Janja.Dolenc@fe.uni-lj.si Linkedin
Merylin Pill is the Business Development Specialist at the Department of Electrical Power Engineering and Mechatronics of Tallinn University of Technology and also the Development Advisor in the Union of Electricity Industry of Estonia. So her work keeps her quite busy! She has a master's degree in distributed energy from TalTech. In her personal life she's adventurous and loves to travel. She's quite outdoorsy and in winter you can’t keep her away from snowboarding. Contacts: email@example.com Linkedin
Olga Kyselova is the Head of International Research Cooperation and research fellow at the Laboratory of Knowledge Architecture at the Technische Universität Dresden (TUD). She studied computer science at the National Technical University of Ukraine «Igor Sikorsky Kyiv Polytechnic Institute» and defended her PhD in 2013 in the field of biomedical signal processing. She's experienced in teaching, research, scientific project management and in organisation of scientific events (conferences, workshops, summer schools etc.). Contacts: firstname.lastname@example.org
Sandra Metsis is coordinating the SMAGRINET project activities in the Union of Electricity Industry of Estonia. She has a degree in Technology Governance and Digital Transformation, and has been lucky enough to be working in several fields, with numerous R&D projects, in product development, and leading global entrepreneurship programs. She enjoys everything that feeds her curiosity and learning more about different sectors has done it well. So has been traveling, whether it’s sailing on the other side of the world or a quick jog to the nearby forest. Oh, and of course a great book! Contacts: email@example.com, Linkedin
Melika Hinaje is a researcher and Professor at Université de Lorraine, France. Her research activities in the department of electrical engineering (Groupe de Recherche en Energie Electrique) concern fuel cells and electrochemical storage. Using theoretical tools of various disciplines e.g. fluid mechanics, electricity, electrochemistry, M. Hinaje has established models which can be validated by conventional characterization methods e.g. impedance spectroscopy and by means of identification methods used in electrical engineering. She has supervised several PhD students and used to be during 5 years responsible of one (of the three) applicative domains “Electrochemical sources and storages” of the GREEN laboratory. She has had the chance to collaborate on international projects and to establish strong partnerships. She is a person who enjoys discovering new countries, new cultures, and different ways of working whether in teaching or research. Contacts: firstname.lastname@example.org, LinkedIn
What are your responsibilities in the SMAGRINET project?
- Anneli: In SMAGRINET I am responsible for events organisation and last year we had the challenge and opportunity to turn all physical events into online format. Jointly as a team we managed very well, and our webinars and conference were a success.
- Catarina: In SMAGRINET I’m in charge of monitoring and managing the dissemination and communication activities of the project in order to increase the impact of the results and outputs it delivers, as well as of raising awareness to the importance and advantages of the energy transition to the smart grid. So far, the consortium efforts have paid off and we’ve had great results on our performance indicators. For example, we have gained hundreds of followers on our social media channels and thousands of new users on our website. This means that we’ve been able to share our SMAGRINET outputs and activities with a lot of people and that more individuals now have more knowledge to make more informed decisions.
- Janja: I became a member of the Smagrinet project a little bit late, in August 2020, when the project was ongoing for more than a year already. From then on, I took over the coordination and leadership of the ULJUB tasks. The work involves participation in the meetings, writing reports, organization of short-term programs for different target groups and case-based modules for students and organization of workshops, such as Train the Trainers Workshop. I’m also responsible for organizing the work in the WP5 led by ULJUB. I like working on the Smagrinet project. Various tasks are very diverse, which makes the work very exciting. Moreover, we are trying to provide useful materials and information about Smart Grids, the distribution networks of the near future. Therefore, I see the propagation of this knowledge as a very important task of us, engineers.
- Merylin: I joined SMAGRINET relatively recently and have helped in the marketing of the project from TalTech side and now I am putting together the SMAGRINET short term course in Estonian to increase the reach in Estonia. It already has been an interesting ride and I am so glad that this article helps me to get to know other women who are working hard on this project!
- Olga: In SMAGRINET I do overal coordination of TUD’s tasks and I’m in charge of the activities in WP2 „Operation of the collaboration and knowledge sharing hub“. One of my main content-related responsibility is to identify and validate urgent and emerging knowledge, skills and competence needs for the training of a next generation of electrical engineers, who must be knowledgeable to implement the new smart grid technologies and also manage them effectively in the future. Together with my collegue Anja Jannack we developed an approach for running the mapping and experience exchange workshops to bring together the energy engineering community and other stakeholders.
- Sandra: I have mostly been working with the SMAGRINET international mobility program which creates the link between students and industry. The COVID situation has been challenging in terms of planing anything that deals with mobility and traveling, but it has also taught more flexible and “out of the box” solutions. I have enjoyed the discussions with the companies and learning about their challenges. It is great to see how they appreciate new knowledge, are eager to welcome new talents, and look for solutions to join the mobility program. Another beneficial point has been learning more about the smart grids, energy transition, and receiving interesting insights straight from the sources.
- Melika: In SMAGRINET I am involved in the creation of content and implementation of training modules in the field of energy. I am also in charge of the diffusion of information in the authorities at the University of Lorraine and at the national level. In order to find stakeholders for the project, I participate in conferences and seminars.
How did you find your way to your profession?
- Anneli: My educational background is in humanities and social sciences, as this was my passion and strength. However, today I work to large extent with projects dealing with different technologies. The most recent project was about supporting an organisation about setting up a work programme for implementation of the national energy efficiency action plans in industry, building and transport sector. In needed to find out how to build a low temperature district heating system for example. We need to think what skills we have and to use them during the career path so that we turn the challenges into opportunities.
- Catarina: I’ve always wanted to follow a creative career and make an impact in the world. However, that’s a very broad spectrum and I wasn’t too sure which path to follow. So, I decided to focus on what I did best and my academic career revolved around foreign languages and communications. After that, I started working mainly in Public Relations. I wasn’t too excited with it so I put myself out there for new opportunities. I did an interview at LOBA where they decided I was perfect fit for their EU-Projects department. There, I found my true vocation and I really enjoy what I do. I am now coordinator of the Communications Team at my department. Regarding the future, I’m sure that the it still holds a lot for me and I’m looking forward to what it will bring!
- Janja: Well, that is a quite funny story. So, electricity was a topic of our curriculum in the last year of my primary school. It involved interesting experiments such as powering the lightbulbs and I fell in love with it. The subject itself, along with the passionate explanation given by the professor lead to my enrollment in Electrical Engineering high school. However, my family didn’t support this decision. They tried really hard to convince me to choose a different field. Nevertheless, today they are glad I didn’t change my mind at that time. And here I am, working on my PhD from Electrical Engineering.
- Merylin: My background is, quite vivid. My initial education is in finance and I worked for a long time in finance sector. Then I turned to the world of intellectual property. Then I took a turn in my life and started studying energetics. My major was distributed energy systems, which now, in retrospect, turned out to be a very good choice. However, I also came across the same stereotypes during my studies regarding women in energy. My family was also pretty confused about my choice. But during my studies, I started working at the university in my current position, where my main task is to improve cooperation between researchers and companies. At first I was hesitant about whether I could handle it and what the people's reaction would be - but here I am!
- Olga: During my studies at the Faculty of Electronics, I've studied a wide variety of content that benefit me profession. Besides of that, I was always interested in interdisciplinarity, methodological support, user needs identification and translation to the applied field, as well as knowledge transfer to society and industries. From the other hand, I’m interested how to manage the research processes. I’m happy to be a part of SMAGRINET team, as this project brings together interdisciplinary expertise from academia and industry in the fields of smart grid engineering, ICT/cyber security and Social Sciences, as well as target groups within and beyond engineering, such as public and policy sector, including cities and regions.
- Sandra: SMAGRINET crossed my way when I was working as a consultant in Civitta and dealing with several international projects. I got a chance to organize the SMAGRINET webinars and the annual conference. This provided a great jumpstart into the world of smart grids and energy transition. And after taking on a new challenge and concentrating more on the local level, I still was hooked on with SMAGRINET. Luckily, I got a chance to continue my journey and support empowering the knowledge via the Union of Electricity Industry of Estonia.
- Melika: I have always loved physics and doing small experiments. I have had teachers in this field who have only enhanced this pleasure by always being ready to answer my questions, to encourage me to always go further in my questioning. At the end of the classes, I often ended up in a scientific discussion where I no longer had the impression that I was learning in an academic way, but more in an exchange mode. Becoming a researcher in electrical engineering matched my expectations, ideas that could be put into practice.
What thrives you the most in your field and what is your vision for the future?
- Olga: Only during first year of SMAGRINET we have organised 18 events within WP2 “Operation of the collaboration and knowledge sharing hub“. I found this number quite significant and I believe that TUD’s Co-participation and Co-creation approach can support the process of education programms development by actively involving and interacting with different stakeholders.
- Catarina: I really enjoy that what I do has a significant and positive impact in our society. In addition, I get to do something that I really enjoy work-wise (communications, being creative, design, etc.) and I’m allowed to it in a very independent way. I get to travel all the time and be in contact with so many brilliant minds. I really do enjoy the new people I get to meet for each new project and the new things I learn with everyone. For the future, I will continue to fight to achieve happiness and greatness, I still have much more to show.
- Janja: Every day I deal with new challenges. There is something going on all the time, like meetings, working on project tasks and, most exciting, researching. I’m not sure where I will be in 10 years from now. I plan to finish my PhD in 2 or 3 years. And for the rest of my career, I hope to work on various research projects, as I do now. I’d still like to wake up in the morning excited to go to work. This is all one can wish for a chosen career.
- Merylin: Probably this goes for a lot of people, but I’m inspired when I see that I’m doing the right thing and that my actions have an impact. In my work, I appreciate that I can deal with very different tasks and sometimes I cannot even imagine what the next day will bring. Because of my profession I have a great opportunity to meet different people and companies in energy sector and I can be in the middle of this interesting time. I can definitely see myself continuing my journey in the energy sector.
- Sandra: I have always been intrigued by how the vital services are granted and how collaboration between the different sectors and fields is arranged. Energy is one of the most fascinating sectors in that sense. Also, we live in a time where consumers become more and more aware, environmental aspects, and renewables receive more spotlight than ever, but the reality is complicated. Delivering a secure, affordable, and sustainable energy future for all is quite a challenge to take. I am sure that attracting new talents and knowledge to the sector is a prerequisite for conquering this challenge. And I am glad that SMAGRINET is here to help with this!
- Anneli: In February 2021, the HubIT project came to its end. I have been coordinating it for the past 3 years. The project was about promoting ICT research and innovation that is driven by society and is aware of its societal implications. We suggested for that interdisciplinary collaboration between ICT and social sciences and humanities experts. After having organising more than 30 events and meeting with ca 1700 people, the assessment report of the project concluded among other things that in the future curricula should be developed so that it combines both – technological and social sciences and humanities skills (and this does not mean educating generalists). I am proud that the SMAGRINET modules are just like that.
- Melika: In the SMAGRINET project, I saw an industrial revolution 4.0, so it is difficult to resist this call that will mark a turning point in our societies. To participate in this project is to give a meaning to research and to the project that we are conducting.
Do we need more women in energy?
- Anneli: I believe that it is similar if we talk about gender balance in science and education. It starts from home and kindergarten, raising children in the spirit that if there is interest – all professions are open for them. It is about encouraging boys and girl’s natural curiosity. Later on, explaining to them the advantages of different career paths as well as the demands of today's job market, and in the future lack of experts in different technological disciplines.
- Catarina: I’m not from the energy sector, but I do believe we need more women in higher positions in all fields of activity. It’s incredible witnessing statistics that show that there are now more women getting to college than men, that they are having better results than men (source), but then what you see is mainly men in the higher rankings of the companies, and if they are in the same ranking, they earn less. There needs to be fairness and equality, and women should have the same opportunities as men. It’s actually a bit frustrating that we are already in 2021 and we still need to fight for something so trivial such as gender equality.
- Janja: In Slovenia, there is more and more female students in Electrical Engineering. I believe, the number of females in the field is getting higher and the traditionally “a male sector” is getting more gender balanced. However, we need women in energy, of course. We have already proved to be able to offer the same level of expertise. And most importantly, I sincerely believe that a mixed working group of men and women is more successful than a homogenous group of men or women. Nevertheless, I personally believe that, in the end, the knowledge and professional background should prevail over the gender questions.
- Merylin: The short answer is - of course yes! I think everything in this world is a matter of balance, it is so in energy and it should be so in terms of workforce. Yes, there will always be areas where this balance level is different, but in energy I see no reason why this gap should be this significant. When I started studying, there were 15 people in my course, 4 of whom were women. The gap is still 1 female student per 16 male students in our energetics study programs. This needs to change! I personally believe that the difference enriches. Nor can I point out any positions that are meant to be only for men or women. Gender has nothing to do with a person’s abilities - it all comes down to individuals and their thrive and ambition. The only “manly” thing here would be to support, accept and empower this change.
- Olga: “Women are more dedicated and willing to change and make sacrifices … ” – considerable argument for the European Green Deal strategy, especially within behavioural, social and cultural change for the Green Deal.
- Sandra: What we need is diversity, all forms of it. The more different perspectives and experiences people bring to the table and teams, the more disruptive and creative ideas they come up with together. And this is exactly what we need to tackle, the challenges the energy sector is facing.
- Melika: I think we need all the people who can enrich the knowledge in this field and being a woman is not a hindrance in any way. We must not turn this into a competition between women and men, but a healthy competition in the field of knowledge that will advance research.
What is your message to women to encourage them to proceed a career in energy?
- Anneli: I remember how surprised I was to see the first female bus driver and the first male cashier in Estonia. As a society we should not be surprised but support and encourage change. I will sum it up here, as my daughter is leaving for school where she has her last robotics class for a while due the pandemic, which caused a school break, and I will catch up with the management of the Robotics4EU project that I will be running for the next 3 years.
- Catarina: In energy or in whichever field, just fight for what you want and what makes you happy. You’ll probably need to fight a bit harder than your male colleagues, but that shouldn’t stop you. You’ll prove your worth and you’ll be the best. You/We can do it!
- Janja: I love what I do and if I had to choose my professional path again, I would choose the same. From the very beginning, I have enjoyed the Mathematics and Physics, and I frankly never liked History or Art classes that much. That’s why I have chosen the Electrical Engineering without thinking about it as a “male sector”. You know that there will always be someone telling you, that you are a woman and are not meant to be an Electrical Engineer, especially during your education process. But do not let it tear you down, make it your fuel and motivation to prove everyone and yourself, that you can be even better in the field, and you are doing what you love the most!
- Merylin: It all starts with the right mindset. There will certainly be moments that are more difficult, but this is the case for every profession and field of study. The most important thing is that you do what you love!
- Olga: Girls, let’s build a green future together! Follow the opportunity and sign to the SMAGRINET Virtual Course „SMART GRID FROM A TO Z“!
- Sandra: Don’t be afraid of the challenge! Be curious and if you feel the calling to make a difference, go for it! It does not necessarily mean an engineering degree to make things happen (although it definitely helps a lot!). You can also start small. There is a lot of knowledge out there to get a glimpse about the challenges in energy. Start with SMAGRINET courses for example. Who knows where it can lead you, but one thing is for sure – better understanding how the world operates and where it is heading is never a bad thing!
- Melika: Whatever the field, being a woman should not be a handicap. It is obvious that where there is discrimination, reaching one's goal will require more effort (which is not normal), one must choose rather than suffer the choice of others, it will be not only a satisfaction for oneself but also the pride of passing it on to one's children.